Seth Godin is Wrong, Your Brain is Right

Seth Godin is wrong.

I am a Seth Godin fan, so that took a moment to click.

Of course, he’s right in a lot of ways. But in one specific thing, he’s wrong. Right enough for daily use, but still wrong.

I was listening to the audio book version of “The Icarus Deception” when I heard him talking about embarrassment and fear of doing something new. How the amygdala is wired to protect us from being an outlier, from stepping out, because of the potential of death.

Yes, death.

In a primitive, tribal structure like that existing for most of human evolution, being weird, questioning the status quo, or trying new things could get you killed.  New ideas were dangerous. Either you would be murdered outright to protect the good order of the unit, or you would be outcast. Exiles don’t get the protection of the group or opportunities to mate, so their genes don’t get passed on. I recommend reading “Sapiens” if you want to see just how brutish humans are.

Godin says the amygdala is still there, protecting you from doing something new or risky, even after the risk of death is gone.

But Socrates wasn’t an outlier. He lived in a fairly modern society and was put to death for his ideas.

Being weird or unconventional, outside the accepted norms, can still keep you out of the gene pool. Yes, in western society, free speech is pretty well protected. But how many people have been killed or ostracized even in the United States for loving the wrong person? For believing in something different than their neighbours or friends? For just being different? For wanting something better? How many in the last 4 generations?

Lynchings, beatings, and being shunned don’t happen to people who toe the party line. Who do what’s expected.

That’s just in the US. What about all the other places where freedoms aren’t constitutionally protected? There are so many places where you could be jailed or executed, or shunned or murdered, for defying your family. For believing in the wrong god or none at all. For believing in the wrong sect of a religion. For being yourself on the wrong side of an imaginary line.

The amygdala tries to protect us from standing out because there has never been a time where you weren’t at risk for doing or saying the wrong thing and being killed for it. There hasn’t been any time for the evolutionary pressure to slack.

For much of Godin’s audience, for much of what they’re trying to do, he’s right. You probably won’t be killed for your art. For bringing something new into the world. Being a weirdo can pull you out of the gene pool, though. And he and his audience sit in a privileged position. They’re probably among the billion or so of the population who have some protection against those who want to enforce the status quo.

That leaves 6 billion who have to worry.

What does that mean for me?

Well, Seth Godin is right in my particular case. I’ve already had children. I’m in a place where a little risk won’t kill me, or pull me out of the gene pool. Assuming I stay conventionally unconventional. The challenge for someone like me is to acknowledge that my brain, which has done a great job of keeping me alive, is now standing in the way of doing something truly interesting.

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